IN a shock move, one of Nelson Mandela Bay’s most successful police task teams has been shut down – and detectives are concerned that the 300 cases they are investigating will now never be solved.
The highly effective Motherwell Trio Task Team, made up of hand- picked detectives from six police precincts, has arrested more than 250 dangerous criminals since it was formed in November.
It has a 70% success rate in solving murders where no suspect was identified.
And about 90% of all armed robberies investigated by it have been solved.
Trio Task Team members are dumbfounded by the shutdown of the unit, saying their arrest statistics and work performance had been “way above the accepted norm”.
Experts also questioned the closure, saying unless serious crime had shown a “significant decrease” there was no reason for the team to be disbanded.
The area the team operated in included New Brighton, Motherwell, KwaDwesi, Swartkops, Kamvelihle, Zwide and the surrounding areas. But when crimes were committed in other suburbs, they would help track the perpetrators to establish if they were connected to other cases in their areas.
The more than 300 cases being investigated by the team will now be taken over by detectives at the police stations. Enraged task team officers said their main concern was the fate of “sensitive” cases they were investigating.
“These cases will now go back to the relevant police stations where they do not have the resources to investigate,” an officer said. “It is madness and I really think they [management] do not realise what they are doing by tearing apart a team like this.”
Task team members said that following the news on Friday, morale had slumped. Some said they were fed-up would now only do what they were paid to do, “nothing more”.
“The cases that are under investigation will probably be messed up as once again no communication between the other stations will take place,” another officer said.
“The main reason management established the team was so that all station detectives would communicate with each other and establish links that would lead to arrests.
“With the Trio Task Team gone detectives at station level will not be able to establish connections or links to murders and other serious crimes in other policing areas.” A former task team member said team members had worked overtime on countless occasions.
“It is a slap in the face and highly infuriating that we worked around the clock to arrest these criminals and now they will probably walk or not even get arrested.”
The team also worked hand in hand with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to ensure they had sufficient evidence to secure a conviction.
One of the key cases the team had been working on was the murder of a state witness, who blew the whistle on two Tactical Response Team officers implicated in the murder of a Somali shopkeeper, and the attempted killing of another and possible links to the TRT members.
The decision to shut down the task team came just days after the story was published.
Task team commander Colonel Jackie Grobler refused to comment on the matter yesterday, referring all questions to the police media division. Provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Marinda Mills said she had not been briefed on the disbanding of the unit and the decision to close the unit was up to Major-General Johan Kapp of the Motherwell cluster.
“A task team is not a permanent structure within the police and they [management] can disband the team if they feel there is no further reason for it,” she said.
“Task teams are only established for a period of time to get certain specific crimes under control.
“Once this is done, it is up to the commanders to decide if they keep the task team or send the members back to their stations.”
Mills referred questions about the Trio Task Team to Kapp. He confirmed yesterday that team members had been sent back to their various stations but refused to say why the team was being disbanded.
“We feel it would be beneficial for the members to operate from their respective stations as opposed to being at one office,” he said.
“Every task team has a beginning and an end, and this one has served its purpose. It is now time for us to move on.
“The Motherwell cluster station management had a meeting and a judgment call was made for the team to be disbanded. I supported the call and, at this stage, we feel that the team has achieved the desired outcome.”
Institute of Security Studies policing expert Johan Burger said last year’s crime figures for the area did not support the disbanding. “Unless there has been a drastic change in these crimes over the past year, there is no evidence to support the closing of the task team,” he said.
“There are many other provinces and stations around the country that also have trio task teams but they have kept them due to their specialist role in fighting crime.”
Burger said unless there was another high-priority crime problem, other than murder and robbery, he did not see the justification for the task team’s shutdown.
“Even if they have shown a drop in crime, it is premature to disband the team in the hope that this crime will not spike again,” he said. “It might be a similar scenario to the Scorpions where they became too effective and were subsequently disbanded.”